Wichita school board approves sale of Park Elementary

BY MATTHEW KELLY/The Wichita Eagle

After delaying a decision earlier this month, the Wichita school board voted Thursday to give the city an option on the former Park Elementary building in Midtown for the construction of its promised homeless services campus.

“Essentially, we’re entering into an agreement with the city that we won’t sell the property to anyone else while they do their due diligence on cost and impact to the community and all that,” Superintendent Kelly Bielefeld told board members.

The elementary property, which was most recently appraised at $750,000, could be sold to the city for $1 unless state lawmakers decide in the next month and a half that they have a different use for it.

City officials say the 1921 school building at 1025 N. Main could be ready to accommodate an emergency shelter by mid-November and fully equipped with wrap-around services by 2026. Preliminary plans for the facility include a year-round shelter space, a navigation center for connecting people to resources, and 50 supportive housing units in a connected building that would have to be constructed.

“We are doing this for the public good,” board member Melody McCray-Miller said before the vote.

Only Kathy Bond objected to the option agreement with the city, which was first rolled out at a news conference on June 6.

“I am not against finding the help that we need. I am against the $1 amount,” Bond said. “That just does not sit right with me when we are in such a financial crunch right now.”

Park was one of six schools the board voted to close this spring as a cost-saving measure to help plug the district’s projected $42 million budget shortfall.

Vice President Diane Albert said charging the city more than the nominal fee required by law would amount to selling taxpayers a building they’ve already paid for.

“It’s a transfer of ownership basically,” Albert said. “And I think that’s a fiscally responsible decision.”

The board also voted Thursday to sell the former Field Elementary at 3006 W. St. Louis for $325,000 to River Knox Holdings, LLC, which won a competitive bid on the property and plans to convert it into apartments. Field was closed at the end of the 1995-96 school year.

At a board workshop last week, Chief Financial Officer Susan Willis said most former Wichita schools sold by the district go for between $150,000 and $400,000.

In 2021, the McCormick School Museum board bought that property for $1. Willis said annual costs associated with maintaining empty school buildings range from between $80,000 and $160,000 a year per building.

“Park as an empty building has a cost to the district,” she said. “We talked about this when we closed it, that we were going to have immediate labor savings from movement out of that building but that we would still have to maintain the grounds. We would still mow and weed-eat and trim trees and keep repairs in place. We’d have to have some utilities. We’d have to have cameras. Our staff will still need to monitor all the alarm systems.”


Supporting materials for the board resolution declaring Park Elementary a surplus property state that it has $11 million in deferred maintenance needs.

Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said some of those costs are specific to operating the building as a school.

“Our original estimate is $8 million into the building, but that’s without the due diligence that we have to go through. We don’t know everything that we’ll be running into. It’s a hundred-year-old building,” Layton told The Eagle.

He said those unspecified repairs and upgrades would be paid for through a combination of American Rescue Plan Act money and city capital improvement funds. The city has an additional $5.5 million in federal funds that can be used only to construct housing units and non-congregate shelters that provide clients their own bedroom and bathroom.

Layton said he doesn’t think the immediate need to find a site for the emergency shelter this winter will force the city to settle on Park as the project site if it proves not to be a good fit.

“We’re not going to let the need for a winter shelter drive this decision,” he said. “The council’s got to be comfortable that the capital cost is within our budget and that we have commitments for ongoing sustainable funding of operations. We’re not going to put this kind of money into a building and then find out that we’re running a deficit in the city space. This is a community issue and we need community funding.”

The Multi-Agency Center would house an undetermined number of public and private employees. Layton said discussion with homeless providers about sustainable funding models for the facility are ongoing. He said the ”very preliminary” operating budget for the homeless services campus is $2 million a year

The Multi-Agency Center would house an undetermined number of public and private employees. Layton said discussion with homeless providers about sustainable funding models for the facility are ongoing. He said the ”very preliminary” operating budget for the homeless services campus is $2 million a year.

As far as the emergency shelter, the city can’t return to the building at 21st and Opportunity Drive where it was located last winter.

“We’re not going back there. We made that commitment to the community,” Layton said.

The City Council voted to sell that building to Habitat for Humanity for half of its appraised value in April.


Charles Cullen, who has lived in Midtown for 35 years, said Thursday that he believes selling the defunct school would do irreparable damage to the neighborhood.

“Your vote to give the city Park Elementary School will permanently condemn that neighborhood to decreasing property values and expose the neighborhood to nuisance risks that will greatly reduce its attraction as a place to live,” Cullen said. “If the city establishes a 24/7 homeless services facility in the middle of what is still largely a residential area, that’s just what’s going to happen.”

Around 30 social service providers are already located in Midtown, including The Lord’s Diner, which offers a free evening meal to anyone. City officials have pointed to that proximity as a reason why Park may make more sense for the Multi-Agency Center project than the former Riverside Hospital property in West River Plaza, which the city also has an option on.

“We pride ourselves in what we do, said Makayla Welch, president of the Historic Midtown Citizens Association. “We carry the brunt of what happens for social services for this community, and if you talk to our neighbors, most of them are very proud of that experience, even though it puts pressure on us.”

But she asked the board to consider denying the option agreement with the city.

“People don’t want to move into locations where the neighborhood school isn’t a school, it’s a homeless shelter,” Welch said.

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Wichita Eagle